Economics of Remote Communities Part 3 – Moving Beyond Dependency

Moving beyond dependency

In the previous articles we saw that while is it wrong to say that Indigenous people make no contribution to their local economy, the monetary economy of  remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory today is a false economy, almost entirely dependent on the injection of government monies.  So, how can real jobs and a real sustainable economy be re-established in these regions (remembering that Indigenous people had an extensive trade system of pre-colonisation)?  On the basis of nine years of work in business development with Indigenous families, I think there are four main points that need to be considered:

  1. A local economy grows from personal motivation and energy, it cannot be built from outside ( Discussed below).
  2. Human support is required to overcome cultural and bureaucratic barriers where motivation exists.
  3. Primary production, the basis of any real economy is driven by local ownership.
  4. Flexibility is needed, appropriate for the pioneering and unique circumstances of remote communities.
  5. Subsidies are the best mechanisms of financial aid to support fledgling enterprises.

1. Motivation

The basis of our whole economic system is not money, but labour.  Value in the economy is created only through sweat and hard work.  In any community where people live in a state of welfare dependency, people believe that their effort is irrelevant.  They believe that finding the secret “open sesame”, results in money and riches.  Money is seen as giving access to labour and not the other way around.

In fact, sometimes the Government seems to believe this too – that money can be used as a carrot and stick to create a labour force.  The recent economic focus on remote  Aboriginal communities has the Government and others looking at ways to bring big business into communities, believing that this will create job opportunities and that such  opportunity will create local participation.   But others could also argue that importing industry would exploit the cheap labour potential in these communities. Pure capitalists probably wouldn’t see the problem with that, such a method would create the “necessary” economic growth. But this approach ignores the social impact of big business take overs on local morale and the existing problems of  economic dependency.   This same “job opportunity” approach is seen in current policy, and programs that are geared to teaching ‘work readiness’; that is, teaching people to believe in the sale of their labour.  The current expression of this in CDEP (Community Development Employment Project) and Work for the Dole is enculturating people into a 9 to 5, ‘work while you’re being watched’ mindset.  So, what is the problem?  The problem is, with these models, dependency is maintained, dole workers are dependent on the lure of money and a ‘big brother is watching’ incentive to work is developed. People are being taught to be dependent on the carrot and stick – a reward and punishment, in order to participate.  This assumes and maintains a situation where there is no trust in people’s independence. The result is, that people will not lift a finger outside of what they absolutely have to do to get paid.  This spreads to family, clan and home life.  Males are particularly susceptible to this western enculturation, believing that having done their hours, they can slack off for the rest of their lives and leave it to their wives.  Sounds familiar? The modern economy encourages this compartmentalisation of life in us all – but multiply it by five or ten for people who have grown up with government handouts, and have been given no other way to understand that wealth comes from productivity, which comes from labour. And labour in both its quality and quantity is a result of personal motivation.

When reward and punishment is used to motivate people, they do only as much as they must, and resist increasing labour input. To put it another way, they resist productivity and growth.  But when people choose to do something out of their own values system, they are internally driven and will increase labour to reach their goals.  This internal motivation is at its peak when people are driven by a passion for the work itself or for a dream they believe in. This is what I call a ‘creative calling’ (or purpose), which has more productive potential than other internal motivations, such as, “I want my kids to be well off”, or “its good to be productive”.  But, what ever the internal driving value, without motivation coming from within the person there is no incentive for growth, innovation, or independence.  But it is these very factors that drives entrepreneurism and market diversity – particularly in primary and secondary production.  Personal motivation is the only place from which people will draw forth the effort required to kickstart  and maintain new enterprises and thus, the new economy that is required in places like Arnhem Land.  Once people start working out of a sense of purpose, goal, dreams and passion – rather than simply believing in the power of money – they begin to believe in the their own power in themselves and others.  This becomes the place from which economic development is achieved in a way that will move beyond government support.

Some people ask if there is really anyone with motivation in Indigenous communities.  Yes, despite the disempowerment suffered, there are many amazing individuals who continue to dream and believe that they can create economic and social independence for themselves, their families and their clans. These are the people we work to support through the AHED project, which now supporting a dozen or more endeavours in one remote community at any one time.  And we discuss in more detail how to support their motivation in Part 4.


Add your comment:

  1. Mr Moore

    Where is part 4?

  2. Megan Bliss

    I have been involved in ways of trading that do not involve money. I wonder if LETS could work for the communityies you work with?
    Here is a website
    that coordinates networks of people in their own local economies around the world.
    There are different forms of these, they do not have to be internet-dependent, in fact the traditional economies would surely have keys for today? Empowering people.

  3. Economics of Remote Aboriginal Communities Part 2 – Today’s Economy.

    […] real needs and motivations, while challenging welfare dependency.  This is the topic of the next article. Tags: Aboriginal organisations, dis-empowerment, economic issues, employment, Government […]